Dear friends and partners,
As we begin the New Year 2020 I would like to share with you some of the exciting things happening within our Tabitha Cambodia project areas. Last week we went to Prey Veng province – Ponley Sdoa Village. It is an area we started in 5 years ago – an area marked by poverty and despair. The men had all left to various parts of Cambodia for work, leaving the women and children behind. Life was so very hard.
On our visit this past week we met with several families – families who have been in our program from the onset of our work there. What a change has occurred. Our first family was Vannak and his wife Srie – they have 3 children. They welcomed us with open arms and big smiles – they could not wait to show us all they had achieved. Their home was a tin structure 20 meters wide by 15 meters deep. It contained a number of their small businesses – motorcycle repair, a small café, a small store – in the back they had built 3 bedrooms for themselves and their children – they had a toilet complete with bathing facilities. Vannak had saved to get a well from us and with this water the couple had built 2 fish pens; an eel pen – they were raising special chickens and ducks. Their rice fields had increased to two hectares from a quarter hectare of before.
We all rejoiced in their progress – in the pride they had in their work. But what we noticed the most was that the couple was working together – they were a partnership. Gone are the days when Vannak would be away for months at a time laboring in construction to pay for household expenses. His wife Srie was determined to change their life style through savings – with the ending of each cycle she would start another small business – with each small business, Vannak dreamt of more ways for the family to make an income off their land. It took 3 years before he dared to stay home to earn enough money from the work of the couple’s hands to live a good life. Slowly the tiredness and despair disappeared from their faces. They are a couple.
Their neighbor Dayab and her husband saved and started with pigs – each cycle saw changes as they expanded to making rice wine and prohok, a fermented fish sauce – a staple in Cambodian lives. Their rice fields bore three crops a year with the savings for a well. Then they saved to rebuild their shack into a home of mortar and bricks. Currently they have 15 piglets from two sows – pigs with a unique character and charm – the charm and quiet contentment reflected in the faces of this couple. I asked if we should stop savings – their reply was a resounding no: they now were in process of building a home for their son who wanted to get married. He, too had started several businesses – the most profitable one being the raising of fighting roosters for others – a good rooster could easily raise $1000 USD.
Our third family was Sokleang and Heng – they were so proud of their accomplishments. They had built a fish farm on land adjacent to their home – in it were 7000 plus kilos of fish – an expected income of almost $20,000 USD – Heng had been away for years until they started savings. They saved for a well so they could have their fish pond – instead of using a motor to raise the water from the ground, he had extended the drawing pipe on the well and using suction the water came in abundance. They took us to their home where they were raising cows. The cows were for their children – one of whom was now in university in Phnom Penh – an unheard-of possibility a few years ago. We learned of the value of the cows – how white ones were of less value then the red cows – how the value of a grown cow had tripled and were now worth $2000 a piece – how a young calf was now worth $500 USD – how these cows insured a good future for their three children.
I asked Phat, our manager in Prey Veng – how many families had become real families – with husband and wife working together – building dreams. How many couples had lost that harshness from their faces and had those worry lines replaced with a sense of serenity and pride? More than 50% he replied – it’s happening more often now.
I look back over the years when we started – when families lived in mean huts, husbands away, wives struggling to make ends meet, children wasted with malnutrition. I marvel at how this has changed – what courage and strength these women had to believe in themselves – what courage and strength it took for the husbands to return home; to believe in their own ability to change their lot in life from despair to hope and dignity.
In this New Year of 2020, I thank my God that our work, yours and mine, made it possible for so many to be healed – to come full circle in this land of sorrows. To be torn apart and then brought together despite all the odds. How humbled and thankful I am to be part of this renewal of life. Happy New Year everyone!